A priest celebrates Mass for a suspected illegal drug peddler who was killed by the police in Metro Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)
The recent death of two Filipino children caught in the gunfire of assassins sent to kill suspected drug users and peddlers is a tragedy.
The shoot-to-kill policy that has claimed as many as 2,500 people in past months is a descent into hell.
Danica Mae Garcia, aged five, was shot dead when two men on a motorcycle shot at Maximo Garcia who was having lunch with his wife Gemma and their two grandchildren in the village of Mayombo in Dagupan City.
They killers opened fire as Maximo came out of his house. Danica, his granddaughter, was killed in the hail of bullets. While Maximo survived and went into hiding, Danica died. Maximo had earlier confessed that he used to be a drug user.
Althea Fhem Barbon, a 4-year-old girl from Guihulngan town in Negros Oriental, also died in a hail of bullets fired by police when they shot Althea's father, Aldrick, while he was riding his motorcycle. Althea was riding with her father. The bullets passed through Aldrick's body and hit the child. He died and so did Althea. He was listed as a suspected drug dealer.
The shoot-to-kill policy against illegal drug users and peddlers has divided the nation.
There are those who want the police to uphold the constitutional rights of all and follow the rulebook of investigation and due process based on evidence. They want universal human rights respected and the right to life upheld. They want the sanctity of their homes protected and safe from invasion without a detailed search warrant. They want their families protected from harm and violence and false charges and abuse of authority. They want a civilized society under the rule of law.
There are also those who support the shoot-to-kill policy where no evidence of a crime is needed to mark a suspect for death.
No warrant or proof of guilt or innocence is needed. All those named as suspects are judged guilty by being on the list of suspects. The death list is a call to action for paid assassins, police, and now under the state of emergency declared by President Rodrigo Duterte, the military.
Local district officials and law enforcers draw up death lists based mostly on hearsay. It is like the age of the Inquisition. You will be called to confess your crime and sign a paper, which will serve as your death warrant, and you must accept the punishment. No trial needed. Such a policy has left anyone and everybody vulnerable to be listed as a suspect and marked for execution.
The door is open to those with a grudge or an evil purpose against their rivals, enemies or competitors to denounce them as a drug pusher. Then vigilante killers will shoot them and leave a placard with the words "I am a pusher." There will be no questions asked, no investigation done. Case closed even before it can be opened.
It is a policy that has put the power of hearsay and the dubious list of suspects in the place of hard evidence. It has bypassed the rule of law and entered the realm of lawlessness. The gun has replaced the courtroom and the balance of right and wrong. There is no need to listen to the pleas of innocence or recognize the truth. No more the plea of guilty or not guilty, no more the presentation of evidence and the rebuttal. There is no place for reasonable doubt. There is no need for the passing of just judgment. It has already been made once your name is listed. Sentence is passed with a nod and a promise of payment and the motorbike killers target their quarry. Such is the process of state-sanctioned execution.
While the attention of government is apparently focused totally on the war on drugs, abuse crimes against children continue to rise. The abduction of children by human traffickers who take girls from villages and streets and sell them in the thriving and ever-increasing sex bars and brothels goes on right before the eyes of authorities.
This is not new. Cruel sex slavery has been common and ongoing in the Philippines for 50 years. The rights of children and youth are being violated daily in a slow, spiritual death, and at times by physical death as illegal drugs and HIV-AIDS has spread among enslaved young sex workers. The new danger brought by the Zika virus being passed on by sexual transmission is also present.
The sex industry is run on illegal drugs. Methamphetamine hydrochloride, popularly known as shabu, is available in sex bars and brothels to elate customers and keep young girls docile and submissive. It is a business that is not a target of the war on illegal drugs. The girls are victims and can be rescued by the authorities, helped recover, and testify against the operators and pushers. Justice will be done under the rule of law and not the rule of violence and the gun.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.